The just-completed two-day visit of Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan to the Greek capital, at the head of a battalion of Turkish cabinet ministers and prominent members of the Turkish business world, was a supreme example of artfully exploiting Greece's headlong rush into a "negotiation" she can neither control, nor actually fathom thanks to her irreparable economic collapse and a domestic front dominated by fear, desperation, and a sense of advancing futility concerning the future.
Mr. Erdogan has already established a commanding presence as a strong-minded leader, wily international player, and devoted patriot, who anchors his determination in deeply devout Muslim underpinnings and full-bore commitment to Turkey's claims as a regional superpower and primary world actor.
Some years ago, when visiting Thessaloniki during an international meeting, the Turkish PM highlighted who he is via a highly symbolic, poignant gesture. With fellow government leaders lining up for a photo opportunity, Mr. Erdogan spotted that some asinine Greek aide had placed name tags for each of the leaders on the ground, to mark participants' positions for the photo shoot, and next to each tag a plastic copy of each nation's national flag. With the Greek prime minister, Kostas Karamanlis, nonchalantly stepping on the Greek national symbol as he took up his spot, Mr. Erdogan stopped, bent down, lifted the Turkish flag, kissed it, and kept it to his chest. The photo shoot was over and the Turkish prime minister had starkly underscored where he stood vis-a-vis his Greek counterpart.
Mr. Erdogan returned to Athens on May 14 in very much the same frame of mind. Opposite him there lined a Greek administration beleaguered and overwhelmed by the worst fiscal disaster this country has seen since World War II and a country on the verge of bankruptcy. Mr. Erdogan's Greek opposite is an open book to the Turks. Eager to please, with a desperately affable personality, when faced with international actors, Mr. Papandreou is an ideally well mannered and accommodating interlocutor in the book of even freshmen counterparts seeking to promote their national interests. Right behind Mr. Papandreou, the high-octane Turkish delegation spotted a bevy of mostly old party hands, bathed in their political party's past of corruption and nepotism, interspersed with clueless, stumbling newcomers.
The setting, both human and "policy-making," was perfect.
Mr. Erdogan, unlike his Greek opposite, knew exactly what he wanted and how to achieve it. Turkey's strategic interests in the Aegean are well established and constantly demonstrated by a combination of overt gun play and high pressure "persuasive" diplomacy. In recent years, Ankara has missed no opportunity to test Greek "resolve" and discover, every time, that Hellas is far from determined to get into anything that even remotely calls for conflict -- especially armed conflict, God forbid.
Ankara has also patiently and persistently woven a web of demands, emerging from mostly in imaginary territorial and other "disputes," including that of the "Turkish" minority in Greek Thrace, that has come to define Greek-Turkish relations both on a bilateral and "allied" level. Greece's "partners" in Europe, not to mention her NATO "allies," have been addressing Greek-Turkish "issues" very much on Turkey's terms for the longest time and setting politely aside Greek "demarches" and diplomatic notes stressing "international law" as Greece's main rampart.
In short, Turkey has already maneuvered Greece where she actually wants her.
With such backdrop in place, our eastern neighbors are now moving with supreme confidence to implement a meticulously crafted plan of "economic cooperation" and "strengthening mutual relations." Greece, with her internal collapse, the invertebrate nature of her "leaders," and her geographic position, is the ideal space offering valuable "strategic depth" at bargain basement prices to a vibrant, growing, and strongly committed regional superpower, seeking to unilaterally promote "zero problems with neighbors" and dominate her periphery.
Those few in this country, who still insist on watching both the form and the fact of Greek government action, not to mention the "backbone thinking" of an increasingly fearful and appeasing Greek political class, have seen, yet again, their worst fears materialize into a resurrected "Greek-Turkish friendship" outlined, defined, served, and sealed by unilateral Turkish initiative and carried forth by the commanding presence of the Turkish prime minister. Facts speak for themselves:
1. The Erdogan visit was all but imposed on the Papandreou administration. The Turkish prime minister practically invited himself and deftly played the card of arriving in friendship and support of a neighbor in need, which the Greek government happily swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
2. The formation of the high-level Greek-Turkish consultative and cooperation council, an unprecedented motion that was again put forth by Mr. Erdogan to be accepted by the Greek side in one short breath, creates a first in current world politics: a joint cabinet-level organ tasked to promote "common interests," with a little more emphasis though on Turkey's persistent reach for non-conflict control of Greek "directions."
3. The tenor assumed by the Greek government during the visit was dutifully and glaringly attuned to the Turkish "peace offensive." Mr. Erdogan and the Turkish delegation kept politely smiling as the Greek prime minister, in an all time first, suggested during a joint press conference how Turkey might be "afraid" (!!!) of Greece actually attacking her at some point and, thus, keeping up with arms procurement which, Greek officials said repeatedly during the visit, could be curtailed via mutual arms reductions (forgetting, of course, the massive disparities in favor of Turkey that make any such notion null and void).
4. The Turkish ministerial battalion arrived fully prepared with missives and memoranda that the Greek side hastened to approve and sign without much ado in what international news described as "joint declarations to boost trade and cooperation;" hopping to the Turkish tune was again glaringly visible.
5. This spirit of "jointness," however, failed to penetrate to the level of hard-core issues, like Turkey's daily challenges in the Aegean and/or Cyprus. This was hardly unexpected. Mr. Erdogan was here not negotiate Turkish key strategic interests and concomitant practices; he was here to underscore that Greece needs just one little push to join in Turkish-inspired and dictated "jointness."
The unfailing sign of complete success for Mr. Erdogan came from the (mostly manipulated and slave) Greek media's effusive rhapsodies on the new emerging "Greek-Turkish friendship." The Turkish prime minister, and his advisers, have every reason to be satisfied with their Greek play. They have established a commanding bridgehead that the local infidels not only accepted but will do their best to further buttress.
In the end though, the "average person" in the Greek street would ask the obvious question: so, what's wrong with such friendly exchanges and giving this country exit from under enormous financial burdens required to keep the colors flying?
The answer is, nothing, really....
... now that we have reached bottom both as society and a "Hellenic whole."
The Greek government's performance during the Erdogan visit demonstrated that Greece has reached such a level of fatigue that long-term vassalage, masqueraded as "joint declarations to boost trade and cooperation," has become the accepted alternative to defending one's independence and national sovereignty with force of arms, if need be.
While we may blame our governors for their crawling on all fours, the ultimate responsibility for defending this country is up to her people. As the Greek Constitution phrases it: "Observance of the constitution is entrusted to the patriotism of the Greeks who shall have the right and the duty to resist by all possible means against anyone who attempts the violent abolition of the Constitution."
In this, we have all apparently failed.
"Friends" on both sides of the Atlantic are already applauding this "historic development" that formally introduces the final passing of Hellas, after 190 years of often precarious independence, under a carefully camouflaged Turkish sphere of influence and opens new vistas for ensuring "peace and stability" allowing business to eventually thrive in the Aegean -- with a neo-Ottoman stamp.
Aferin and hoşgeldin, as Mr. Erdogan would put it!